São Paulo made the bold move of banning outdoor advertising in 2007 by enacting its Clean City Law. There was a lot of public support for this move, while at the same time dismay from the advertising industry. Some 15,000 billboards were removed, and some 300,000 business signs painted in large letters or hanging over facades were also subject to the ban and had to be removed. Also gone were bus, taxi, and poster advertisements. While the law was definitely controversial, public opinion was positive with lots of people commenting on the beauty of the cities buildings once the signage had all been removed. It also uncovered a lot of social issues such as workers living and sleeping in the factories that were previously covered by billboards. These people were working and only making enough money for food.

Before and after images by Marcelo Palinkas of the São Paulo City Council (from 99percentinvisible.org)

Reading about this and trying to relate it back to New Zealand, you can’t help but wonder if we would benefit from following São Paulos lead. We are a country that relies on tourism and beautiful cities can only enhance our reputation.  I know as a marketing person, I’m supposed to tell you about ‘brand awareness’, what a difference that makes etc, but as a consumer, I honestly can’t recall a time ever in my adult life when I was walking down the street, saw a sign and thought – damn I really want that product or service. While I understand that isn’t the exact nature of what brand awareness is, I still struggle with the concept of spending money on advertising like that where you have zero ability to gauge the return on your investment. Why not build brand awareness through sales?! It can be done, I’ve seen it. I’ve seen products and business hit the tipping point, go massive and that had little or nothing to do with what the old school concept of brand awareness is. If you are a large company, or you have heaps of capital and want to saturate the market with your brand, then maybe the old school way will work for you. If you are a smaller business or have a limited marketing budget that you have to see a return on, then you need to be able to measure the return on your investment, in which case, avoid billboard / brand awareness style marketing. Go for something much more targeted where you can see the return. Methods like search engine optimisation of your website, social media marketing, or Google Ads (formerly Adwords) are all able to show the number of sales generated specifically from an advertising campaign.

I would be glad to see the end of outdoor advertising. The only thing I use when I go to buy anything these days is Google on my phone.

By Jeff Sutton